Starry, starry tweets

It’s prudent to be politically correct. No wonder Mumbai’s film community tweeted, darted TV bytes and occupied reams of newspaper print, extending their support to Anna Hazare. Rajinikanth, too, currently the superstar No 1 of Indian cinema, came out of recuperation to give Mr Hazare’s anti-corruption crusade the thumbs up.

Now, news reports even claim that the politically-active producer-director Prakash Jha intends to launch a film titled Satyagraha, with perhaps Amitabh Bachchan portraying the messiah of a scam-oppressed nation. A twist of irony there, since Bachchan in real life has sought to distance himself from the hurly burly ever since he found himself inadequate as an elected MP who couldn’t quite swim in the cesspool of realpolitik. Also, Inquilab (1984) and Main Azaad Hoon (1989) in which his roles had overt shades of dissent against the Establishment, didn’t find favour either with the mandarins or the masses.
In post-Independence India, film personalities have attained mythic followings both as stars and politicians, essentially in the southern states: N.T. Rama Rao, M.G. Ramachandran and J. Jayalalithaa, have straddled the screen as well as the highest corridors of power. In Bollywood, though, it has been an uneasy liaison.
Occasionally, Aamir Khan admirably pitches in his support for the Narmada Bachao Andolan. Even before her tenure as Rajya Sabha MP, Shabana Azmi combated the authorities for the alleviation of the lot of underprivileged. Mahesh Bhatt is vociferous in articulating his views on myriad issues. Anupam Kher has come out strong on his views about social and political inequities. Javed Akhtar represents the secular and liberal voice of the intelligentsia. And Rahul Bose, in perhaps a low-key manner, has been politically conscientious.
The recent quotes by showbiz stars on Mr Hazare’s protest movement, however, appear to be kneejerk reactions. Starlets as well as stalwarts have expressed an opinion. Okay, so why not? Answer: it was perfectly okay if the quotes were substantiated with reasons, besides a mature understanding of a protest movement.
Token statements, whether they come from an A-lister heroine or from a publicity-craving wannabe, amount to little more than unquotable quotes.
In fact, those who have kept their views to themselves have done so, simply because they don’t have one. Like it or not, a majority of film celebrities have little on their minds besides the peaking or dwindling graphs of their personal and professional lives. Again, why shouldn’t they? After all, it’s the survival of the gym-fittest.
Meanwhile, over the decades Mumbai’s film celebrities,who actually plunged into politics formally, have recorded a fluctuating graph. As elected MPs, sure Shatrughan Sinha and Raj Babbar have been high-profile. Whether you agree with their ideologies and attitudes, they have made their presence felt. But that’s it. Other star Lok Sabha MPs couldn’t quite tackle the intricacies involved in retaining their following in their constituencies. Examples: Dharmendra (Bikaner), Govinda (North Mumbai) and Vinod Khanna (Gurdaspur).
About his tenure in the Rajya Sabha, the late artist-filmmaker M.F. Husain would admit that he just bided his time at Parliament sessions. On the upside, he sketched the proceedings and politicians, printed as a book which is a rare collector’s item today. Of the other Rajya Sabha members, Lata Mangeshkar came in for an iota of criticism for her lean attendance, a controversy which quickly died a natural death, thanks to her iconic status. Jaya Bachchan, couldn’t be a long-distance runner in the upper house. She was caught in the crossfire between the Samajwadi chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and the erstwhile Bachchan family friend Amar Singh.
Jaya Prada and Hema Malini have held lengthier tenures in the Rajya Sabha. Sporadically, they are viewed as political entities in the media, but there’s no gainsaying that their lingering screen charisma remains their calling card. In the past, faux pas have been made by top filmstars — including Madhuri Dixit who seemed to be clueless about the states and territories of India. Instant clarifications and apologies were issued, peace prevailed. Moral of the story: quickie, of-the-cuff statements can be dicey business. Those celebrities who have a smidgen of political knowledge, a grasp of the pros and cons involved, should certainly tweet on. The others could perhaps realise that there are no airconditioners on Mr Hazare’s bandwagon.

Khalid Mohamed is a journalist, film critic and film director

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